I am a firm believer in the spirit quest. Maybe not going into the forest doped on hallucinogens—nothing against it if that’s your thing—but in terms of making an experience meaningful, even if it’s not until years after the fact, hell yes I’m on board. Very recently I had one such experience that changed me deeply; shook the very foundations on which I’ve based decades of my worldview.
I finished watching the original Star Trek.
The whole series, front to back. 80 episodes, including the two pilots, one of which never aired.
Also the first movie.
This has not been a binge, as such. That’s a lot of Trek to get through in one straight shot. Over the course of the last year or so, I made my way through. Season three, in particular, was not easy going. “Spock’s Brain?” Come on.
But still, a firmly held belief that I’ve kept as a part of who I am for most of my life has been challenged and reversed, and I hope you’ll trust that I understand the full impact of the words when I say them and that they’re coming from someone who never thought he would feel this way:
Star Trek is better than Star Wars.
Not just a little better. A lot better. It was also there a decade earlier and there isn’t much Star Wars has—all-powerful invisible godlike forces, telepathy, lasers—that Star Trek didn’t have first. No Chewbacca, but Spock. No Leia in a gold bikini, but an unreasonable (and at times incredibly problematic) succession of space-hotties in various stages of creative costume. The dialog? Better in Trek, and where Star Wars in both its prequels and in the original trilogy revolves around the hapless dogoodery of a whiny dork (Obi Wan or Anakin in the prequels, Luke in the original trilogy), every single episode of Star Trek presents and handles its conflicts like actual human beings. The character development is better and smarter, and the characters themselves are better and smarter.
It hasn’t been easy for me. I’ve been on the Star Wars side of this argument since before I was old enough to spell “lightsaber,” as in, “lightsabers kick ass over phasers, nerd”—which remains a valid point. But lightsabers alone do not a better franchise make.
With the purchase by Disney of the Star Wars brand and all its characters, the promise of a new trilogy and spinoff movies like the recently-hinted Boba Fett feature that’s said to be in production—what’s sure to result is a Marvel-izing of the Star Wars universe (think Avengers and the sundry tie-ins with character specific movies), but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing or that it matters either way—Star Wars is at a point now where Star Trek was when they started doing movies and The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine and all that. They’re diluting the original property in order to bleed the fanbase, as they already have with cartoons, the holiday special, etc. It’s about to kick into another gear entirely. Star Wars isn’t short on mythology, and rest assured it will all be exploited to the fullest. Wait until they reboot Episodes IV-VI. If you think that’s sacred ground, you haven’t been paying attention.
But even when that happens, Star Wars still won’t have seen as many miles (light-years?) as Star Trek. With 80 episodes in the original series, plus 178 episodes of The Next Generation, that’s over 200 hours of Trek to contend with before you get to the movies, the cartoon, the other spinoff series and so on. Still, after all that, Star Trek was a strong enough brand to have J.J. Abrams helm a reboot in 2009, which, it’s worth pointing out, wasn’t completely awful.
Star Wars may have come first to feature-length films, but Star Trek came back more often as well, and I’ll take any Star Trek movie you’ve got (even Insurrection) over Episode III of Star Wars.
I’m not saying that I’ve lost all interest in Star Wars, or that I’m not all dork-giddy at the thought of a Boba Fett movie that isn’t a complete suckfest or lazy rewriting of Star Wars mythology—which, without George Lucas involved, it actually has a better chance of not being—but that when I go see that film, probably in 3-D, I’ll do so with the knowledge that it’s not the supreme science fiction franchise of our age, and frankly, that’s not a belief I ever thought I’d hold.
Sometimes life surprises you.